Baton Rouge residents were caught off guard Friday when they found what looked like black ash raining down on LSU’s campus.
“Currently ‘raining’ thin black pieces of ash or plastic in BR around campus. This one landed on my car,” wrote Twitter user Courtney Layne Brewer.
Brewer included a photo of a piece of black ash on her finger as proof. Other Twitter users were more cavalier about the experience.
“It’s currently raining black scraps of ash in Baton Rouge nbd,” Ferris Wayne McDaniel noted.
After a student contacted LSU’s official Twitter account about the issue, LSU responded: “Thank you for reaching out. It is ash from sugarcane fields that are being burned across the Mississippi River in West Baton Rouge Parish.”
Ernie Ballard, LSU’s director of media relations, said LSU learned about the sugarcane fields from West Baton Rouge law enforcement.
While some people were alarmed by the sight of the black flecks floating over the university, Mark Carriere with the LSU Agricultural Center said rural Louisiana students probably weren’t too surprised by the phenomenon.
“If you didn’t grow up in the country around sugarcane fields, you don’t know what’s going on,” Carriere said. “But yeah, it’s a normal agricultural practice.”
Carriere, who works as the Ag Center’s associate county agent in Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes, explained that sugarcane producers burn their fields to remove all the added debris that remains from harvesting sugarcane.
He said that the leafy green material near the top of the sugarcane stalk left over after a combine passes through the field is essentially added trash that can slow down the process at the sugar mill. It gets blown out onto the field and farmers burn what’s left on top of the beds.
“Each one of the producers that grow sugarcane has to go through a smoke and ash management training and they have to be certified as a burn manager to be able to actually burn their fields,” Carriere said. “They have to watch the weather reports and the wind.”
More than likely, Carriere said, the wind changed while a farmer was burning their fields, or the fields were so close to the Mississippi River that it didn’t take much of a breeze for the ash to drift toward East Baton Rouge Parish.
Carriere emphasized that the ash is safe and shouldn’t worry Baton Rouge residents.
“It’s just the black, sooty material coming from the smoke,” he said. “There’s no threat of fire or anything to be concerned about.